California is getting some much-needed relief from the drought. Recent rainfall over the last couple weeks picked up Wednesday night as the largest storm to hit the state in five years made landfall. But as the city of Oakland deals with the storm, water utility officials are warning residents that the region is still in a drought and will have to comply with existing—and new—water regulations.
The last major storm to hit the region was in 2009, and after months of virtually no rain, Bay Area residents are enduring flooded roadways, transit closures and some power outages. When the storm some had dubbed “Stormaggedon” or “hellastorm” picked up force Thursday morning, the Embarcadero, Montgomery and San Bruno BART stations shut down. By the end of the day at least two dozen power outages in Oakland were reported to PG&E, while close to 100,000 customers in San Francisco were affected by power outages.
The inclement weather is also affecting local businesses. On Lake Park Avenue, near Lake Merritt, a tree fell over blocking the entrance to a Wing Stop. A few blocks away, on Thursday afternoon staffers at another business were reconsidering their business hours if the rain continues. “We’re always open, weather permitting,” said Cindy Sandoval, an employee at Fairyland in Oakland, an outdoor children’s theme park. “If rain is in the forecast we’ll make the decision about 30 minutes before fairyland is scheduled to open and we’ll post that on our website and Facebook page.”
On Wednesday, Oakland’s Public Works Department began preparing for several inches of rain. Crews were out cleaning storm drains, inlets and culverts and handing out sand bags to residents and business owners to help prevent flooding. “We gave away more than 4,000 sand bags, which is more than we’ve ever done,” said public information officer Kristine Shaff.
Weather experts say the storm originated in the Pacific Ocean before moving east toward California and was caused by deep areas of low pressure coming from the Gulf of Alaska and meeting with tropical moisture from Hawaii. “Combine those two and we get a lot of rain,” said Steve Anderson, a forecaster for the National Weather Service in Monterey. “It doesn’t happen often but when it does, it’s pretty big.”
Anderson said the storm is affecting the entire west coast of the United States, before it will move south to Mexico. The worst of it, he said, will pass the Bay Area by Thursday night, allowing for a dry weekend. For inland residents struggling to grasp the scope of the storm, Anderson said it’s producing 15 to 20 foot high coastal surf in San Francisco and down to Monterey, some of the largest waves since 2008.
Despite the rain, regional officials are reminding residents that California is still enduring a drought. On Tuesday, the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) board of directors voted unanimously for new drought-related measures. At the beginning of the year customers heeded calls for a voluntary 10 percent reduction on water usage, but the vote on Tuesday approved a new 15 percent cutback beginning January 1, 2015. The board also approved a second purchase of federal water from a supply from the Sacramento River. The water will be funded by a new 14 percent customer surcharge on all water use, set to begin as soon as the pumps turn on early next year.
Restrictions like limiting lawn watering to two days a week are still in effect and EBMUD is recommending customers turn off irrigation systems. “With this much water coming down, there’s no need to have sprinklers on,” said Abby Figueroa, spokesperson for the utility. Figueroa said the district’s reservoirs are about half full and, despite the rain, the district is still going into the new year with a water deficit. “One big storm coming is great, but its not enough,” she said.
According National Weather Service forecasts, the weekend will be dry and then light showers are expected Monday. Although the storm is bringing some inconveniences, some Oaklanders are welcoming the deluge. “I think it’s exciting and delightful,” said Sandoval. “Hopefully we get a break so [the ground] can absorb the water and then we get another round of rain.”